Making a Case for Inclusive Education

One of the colorful threads woven together to form the vibrant tapestry of Apni Shala’s curriculum is a ‘diversity and inclusion’ framework called Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity. SEED started in 1987 by scholars at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA, operates by “creating conversational communities that drive change” and at Apni Shala, we do this through our monthly Diversity Shala gatherings. ‘Diversity’ is a topic with a complex and burgeoning global discourse across fields of human activity, and Diversity Shala aims to contextualize its aspects in the culture, politics, policies, systems, and structures in India, and the communities we work with.

Let’s explore here what terms like ‘equity’ and ‘diversity’ signify in the context of education, how they relate to ‘representation’ and ‘inclusion’, and why all of these are crucial to the democratization of education. 

The course of humanity’s sociocultural evolution has witnessed innumerable instances where societies or cultures of varying strengths and sizes have encountered one another, resulting in either merges or clashes, and the development of new structural orders that accommodate all original and new constituents, whether positively or negatively. When structural orders are hegemonic, ie, power is not uniformly and equitably spread across the structure, domination- and dependency-based paradigms develop, causing certain groups to face marginalization and oppression at the hands of those who hold maximum power and captain the system. 

From India’s historical background as a global trade and resource hub, a land that has been violently invaded and plundered, welcomed emissaries and persecuted minorities from other lands, nurtured a proliferation of ethnicities and cultures, and faced oppressive colonial rule, to its current reality as an enthusiastic participant in economic globalization and neoliberalism; our socio-cultural landscape teems with complexity and plurality. 

Owing to this elaborate and tangled social history that has featured hegemonic and hierarchical systems like feudalism, patriarchy, casteism, colonialism, organized religion, capitalism and so on, several social groups among this plurality have faced marginalization and oppression, and may also be disenfranchised from their rights and privileges as citizens of the country. 

On considering the domain of secular education, we find it to be: 1) a colonial relic that, in its current iteration, addresses needs pertaining to the Industrial Age and hence requires revisions and updates to philosophy, content, and approach; 2) a social institution that has historically been the exclusive privilege of only upper layers of caste, class, and gender hierarchies. 

While some oppressive practices surrounding casteism and patriarchy have been outlawed, the necessary accompanying social change is yet to occur. Further, issues of access to education are addressed — to some extent — through policies and schemes like Right to Education (2009), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (2000 onwards) and the Mid Day Meal Scheme (1995 onwards). Designed to broaden access and include groups that had hitherto been marginalized from education, these have been systemic attempts to restructure the institution and mitigate social oppression.

Increasing access is the first and necessary step toward inclusive social change. However, it is also necessary to consider how representative and relevant the curricular content is for those imbibing it. SEED proposes that equitable and inclusive education occurs when not only the institution but also the curriculum represents and includes histories, experiences, narratives, and lived realities of all engaged diverse social groups. 

Diversity Shala is a space for us, as SEL facilitators working with low-income and marginalized communities, to learn and brainstorm on various possibilities for how this could be achieved in our context. 

SEED is a platform where I get exposure to new insights, perspectives and approaches toward various social issues and also a reflection of my own actions towards them. The norms of SEED which are :

  • No Blame, No Shame, No guilt
  • Trust that learning is a process
  • What is shared here stays here, what is learnt here goes away with you

These norms are extremely relatable when I witness them in my day-to-day lives or when I see my students’ actions that abide by these norms. No blame, no shame, no guilt has given me the confidence to openly share my views and experience and also listen to other’s perspectives. This norm has given me a way to be more open to conversations and show acceptance.

Trust that learning is a process. 

 My outlook has changed or rather evolved by having an exposure to learn SEED which now helps me to delve deep into understanding different people’s context and ideologies rather than forming an opinion or judgment. I have seen this norm reflecting in my classroom where while facilitating a session on Bullying during my debrief one of the students pointed out to the other stating that “Didi he always teases and picks up fight with everyone, he will not mend his way(दीदी, वह सबको चिढ़ाता है, सब को मारता है यह नहीं सुधरेगा  ). To which another replied he will eventually understand. (अरे, वह समझ जाएँगे )”.

As a facilitator, I felt my objective of the session was achieved, to see peers trying to support each other and create a safe space reassured my belief in the norm that learning takes time but eventually everyone learns to their best potential.

What is shared here stays here, what is learnt here goes away with you

After facilitating a session on Body Image in the 8th grade, during the break, I noticed a student was teasing one of his friends on his appearance. To which the other student reminded him, “You should not have mentioned his story to others, especially not outside of our session. We discuss all this only during our sessions”. (तुझे उसकी बातें सब के सामने नहीं बोलनी चाइये, और सेशन के बाद तोह बिलकूल नहीं। यह सारी बातें हम बस सेशन में करते है।) 

It was incredible to see how students remembered and followed the norm not only during our sessions and otherwise also. Even as a facilitator or individual confidentiality is of prime importance and I try to create the same for others too. Once we start taking away the learning from conversations and respect the privacy of the person the interaction becomes comfortable and that’s what this norm reminds me to do.

Apart from the norms SEED sessions have also helped me to rethink and be mindful of the vocabulary I use in my life or in the classroom. My perspective of Inclusion has a new meaning now where I try to engage all the students alike and respect the space and diversity of each individual.   

As facilitators and educators in the education ecosystem we need to develop our ability to include every learner in every space. In my session I always try to make all voices visible.I always believe there’s infinite ways to invite inclusion in our practices, one more way is to always know from children what inclusion means for them. A lot of time we as educators and facilitators have our own experiences of inclusion and that reflects in the classrooms. We also need to know what our children see as inclusion and also bringing that in our context. One of the ways we try to bring all the voices in our circle is by using serial testimony in our circle. In serial testimony everyone in the circle gets to talk, in case when someone does not want to share anything they can pass.

If I am asked to sum up my learning then, “I am still learning and growing with the Diversity Shala training and trying to inculcate them in my life to be able to do more justice to my work.” 

Shachi is a Programme Fellow at Apni Shala. She has a professional background in K-10 curriculum design, trade book publishing, curation, and events programming; also in the facilitation of ecology awareness programs, IGCSE curricula, and Non-Violent Communication with children and adults. Shachi finds delight in nature and the wilderness, profound conversations, solo travels, wholesome food, and dance.

Diksha is a Programme Fellow at Apni Shala. She has completed her graduation in BSc(Mathematics). When she is not in the classroom you can find her reading mythology books or dancing. 

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